Debora Spar, the president of Barnard, the elite woman’s college across the street from Columbia University in NYC has a new book. The basic premise is that women cannot “have it all” because in their struggle for power they got stuck in “an endless quest for perfection.”
Stunned, we are unable to make all the choices! Are we really stunned by too many choice? We fought to have choices, not to have everything. We fought to find our own ways and shed the bonds (or binders/bras) that had shaped our femininity into something that tethered us. Now we are tethered by this unending discussion of what women want and how do they get it.
This dilemma for the feminist was previously and perhaps originally brought to light in 1986 by Harriet Braiker, PhD in her book The Type E Woman: Everything to Everybody. So what exactly is it, according to Spar, that is new?
She says doing it all is not doable. Duh, of course not, if you let others define “your all.” Are young women really taking home the message that they have to have everything? What does that mean? No one has everything. No one in her right mind would want everything.
What Spar does do is to articulate and organize the categories of “all” that might be haunting many of us. Here’s the list, you think it over:
The Beauty Standard–damned if we look good and damned if we don’t. We must make the choice. How do we change the culture which stereotypes us no matter which choice we make? Is this true for men, too?
The Marriage Standard–for marriage to be perfect, our husbands to earn more, for us to be independent and to be put on a pedestal. Marriage has its ups and downs. It is a commitment to commit, not to the bells and stars.
The Motherhood Standard–everyone has to have her own baby. Adoption is out (abortion is in). We must be perfectly fertile at the right time.
The Homemaker Standard–Our homes and meals have to be perfect. The pre-prepared /”take-out” food industry would not substantiate this assertion.
The Work Standard–She uses Sheryl Sandberg’s words and I believe she misuses her intent. Leaning in is not meant for every woman, but for any woman who wants to lead.
The No -Sweat Standard–the standard is to make everything look like it is easy. It isn’t.
She tells us that these towering new standards are making young women sick and attributes eating disorders, psychiatric problems, and other woes of women’s health to trying to make these standards. Her advice? (And my commentary):
- Remember, Wonder Woman doesn’t exist. In other words, no one is perfect.
- Learn from the guys. Men know when to shirk another responsibility to get done what needs to be done.
- Stay close to home. Keeping close to family can be helpful and picking the right partner is critical (Sandberg agrees).
- Banish guilt from your social life. How about your whole life? Guilt is an energy sapper and helps no one.
- Commit to a workout regimen. How about anything that relieves stress? Exercise worked for Spar, something else might work for you.
- Pick a job you love. A satisfying career will make it easier when things get tough. It is also an escape from some of the less exciting or fulfilling parts of life as things wax and wane, hopefully out of synch with one another.
So do women really want to be perfect? Probably not, but the topic is timely and the title is hot. Too bad for women in the trenches, and especially Barnard alums, that a more positive message for trying to live a full live is uninspiring at best and negative at worst.